Not many people in Meriden have any knowledge of a remarkable park located adjacent to Meriden’s Hanover Pond that once entertained thousands of residents of Central Connecticut.
Speaking to 41 Y’s Men of Meriden during an in-person meeting (plus eight more by Zoom), Lesley Solkoske, volunteer with the Meriden Historical Society, provided a PowerPoint program about the Hanover Trolley Park which operated from the late 19th century until its demise in the 1930’s.
Financed by a Philadelphia entrepreneur to increase ridership on Meriden’s trolleys during evenings and weekends, the 30-acre park featuring manicured lawns and beautiful flower beds opened to the public on May 30, 1895 to a huge crowd of 10,000 attendees. Construction had been completed over an eight-month period at a cost of $30,000.
And what was at the park? A merry-go-round, dance hall (called a casino), ballpark (with a grandstand and once featuring baseball legend Connie Mack for one season and boxing world featherweight champion Kid Kaplan), roller coaster, boat launch with boat rentals, hot air balloon ascensions, swimming area, roller skating rink, theater (for plays, vaudeville, etc.), and concession stands (food and drink including beer). Park attendees arrived by trolley, initially horse-drawn but later electrified; indeed, the trolley ride became part of the fun. Each evening concluded with an elaborate fireworks display.
The roller-coaster (then called a switchback railroad) required riders to climb stairs up to the next car, then ride over mounds and dips at about 7 mph to a second tower, where the car was “switched back” for the return ride. And each balloon preparing for ascension was filled with smoke and hot air from a below-surface firepit (with volunteers from the crowd holding the balloon down with ropes), then was released with the balloonist sitting on a hanging trapeze bar. When it reached its maximum altitude as the hot air cooled, the balloon began to fall, and the balloonist would push away while holding on to a parachute with his hands (no straps or other safety gear) and float down to earth.
But the trolley park no longer exists, partly done in by the rapid increase in busses and personal automobiles during the 1920’s and 1930’s, allowing access to larger amusement parks such as Lake Compounce and Savin Rock. Today, the area is owned by American Legion Post 45 and all that remains is the ballpark (appropriately named Legion Park and still in business today).
For further information about the Y’s Men of Meriden, go to ysmenofmeriden.com or call 203-238-7784.